A former editor of the Midlands' flagship "sports pink" publication has told how he shed a tear when he learned the title was doomed.

The Birmingham Mail's Saturday football paper the Sports Argus is set to run its last edition after 109 years at the end of the season.

Mail editor Steve Dyson said the decision came after a huge reduction in the number of premiership fixtures kicking off at 3pm on a Saturday had hit sales.

And Ian Johnson, editor of the Sport Argus from 1966 to 1982, was heartbroken when he learnt of the decision.

He said: "When I heard, I just had to take the dog for a walk and shed a quiet tear on my own.

"I was immensely proud of every edition and while we strived for perfection every Saturday, each time of course we failed to reach it in some small way.

"But when you take into account the volume of copy and results and the number of people involved it was an operation to be very proud of."

Mr Dyson said the decision to axe the paper came in the wake of sales falling in each of the last three years by between 25 per cent and 30 per cent. Competition from multi-media sources had also contributed to the decline, Mr Dyson said.

Mr Dyson said The Mail was making every effort to absorb two full time Argus staff into its operation.

He said: "The Argus has been a big part of the West Midlands sporting scene for many years, and I would like to thank staff past and present for their great efforts.

"But football has changed, readers habits have changed and we're changing with them."

Comprehensive coverage from professional through to grassroots sport would continue in the Birmingham Mail, he said. The pink used to be the biggest selling Saturday sports newspaper in the country and was at one time a huge logistical operation.

Mr Johnson, aged 68, still writes columns for the publication.

He said the paper was relaunched after the Second World War and at that stage had a circulation of over 400,000.

When he took over, the figure stood at 210,000 and his battle was to keep above the magic 200,000 in the face of growing TV pressures.

When he left the figure was down to 190,000 - "but we put up a fight".

He said: ""League tables had to be worked out by us. We had copy runners dashing from the copy takers to the subs and so on.

In addition to all the top football we'd carry a vast amount of non-league coverage.

"We'd have a subbing strength in total of up to around 15, taking in a number of news subs from the Mail."

He said historically, the Argus awarded rugby union teams points for their regular friendly fixtures, a system which later evolved into a formalised league system.

Non-league soccer was covered in immense depth and the paper also carried the fortunes of East Midlands teams.

Timings were vital.

The paper went off stone at 5.03pm and if it was two minutes late an investigation would be launched to discover why.

Mr Johnson said: "The knock-on effect was that the print run could be ten minutes late, and if Villa, for instance, had won 1-0, people might stay in the queue at the paper shop. If they had lost 3-0, they'd go home."

He said with TV "in charge of fixture lists" and growing competition, the Argus faced intense competition these days "but I don't think management has showed the commitment it should have done to the paper."

Guy Newey, Father of Chapel for the National Union of Journalists in Birmingham, said: "This has come as a big blow to our members and to staff here."

The final edition of the Sports Argus comes out on cup final day, May 13, and will include a souvenir pull-out showing how it covered some of the biggest games and sporting legends over the years.

Anthony Sutcliffe and Roger Smith, in their "bible" called "Birmingham 1939-1970", wrote of circulation pressures in the '50s and '60s on the newspaper industry.

However they proclaimed "the Sports Argus, of course, had an assured circulation and future."

Even Sutcliffe and Smith did not have a crystal ball.